Don't Count On Prospects

There have been stories about how Alexei Ramirez is drawing interest from various clubs in need of a shortstop. This is unsurprising, seeing as he is one of the better shortstops in the majors. However, I have seen people throw in as a corollary that the White Sox might do it because Tim Anderson is on the way. This is a dangerous line of thinking.

Counting on unproven commodities is a risky business. We have seen the White Sox hand positions over to rookies out of Spring Training like Brent Morel and Brian Anderson and seen it blow up in their face. What's more, Morel and Anderson, at the very least, were good defensively at the time they were given the starting jobs and were pretty polished from extensive experience at lower levels.  So using Tim Anderson as a justification to deal Alexei Ramirez strikes me as a real leap of faith. 

Anderson was drafted based largely on projection, tools, and athleticism (as opposed to current baseball skill), and was described as raw and inexperienced - even for a junior college draft pick.  As is their wont, the White Sox have promoted him aggressively, and although he has held his own largely due to his excellent hands and ability to defend, he has largely been overmatched.  The 21-year old 2013 first rounder has had no command of the strike zone whatsoever thus far in his pro career, striking out 160 times against only 32 walks over his first 663 PAs.*

*NoteI still really like Tim Anderson and think he's a really cool prospect, I just think he needs a lot more work, and if you have to bet on a prospect making it or not making it, the smart money is on the latter.

This ties back in to the larger point above - prospects fail at a colossal rate, and the hardest jump to make is from the minors to the majors. Let's look at Baseball America's Top 25 prospects from the year 2005 - long enough ago that late bloomers have had a chance to bloom. Now remember, I am doing this to illustrate how often even the best prospects underwhelm, because I think BA does a really great job. This is not to criticize them at all. Also remember, these are the Top 25 prospects for all of baseball from that year - and by definition, not every team can have even one of these guys.

1. Joe Mauer - MVP / All Star

2. Felix Hernandez - Cy Young Winner / All Star

3. Delmon Young - Generally a terrible regular, sometimes a useful bench player, but mostly kept getting chances due to his former prospect caché. 

4. Ian Stewart - Never could justify a starting job, was something of a bench player briefly, short career. Again, more chances than he would have gotten had he not once been a big prospect.

5. Joel Guzman - I don't even remember this guy.

6. Casey Kotchman - He was a good fielding first baseman who couldn't hit, which isn't that valuable.

7. Scott Kazmir - Very good career.

8. Rickie Weeks - Often derailed by injury and swing and miss problems, but had several All Star caliber seasons. Full time starting days are looking to be behind him already.

9. Andy Marte - Never able to hold down a job.

10. Hanley Ramirez - All Star / MVP Candidate.

11. Lastings Milledge - I always thought he deserved more of a shot in the majors, but really a 4th OF at the end of the day at best.

12. Dallas McPherson - AAAA player.

13. Matt Cain - High end #2 starter for a long time.

14. Jeff Francoeur - Lured teams to their deaths with his tools and great personality. They would play him every day and he would usually kill them. Believed the limits of the strike zone were purely theoretical. 

15. Prince Fielder - MVP Candidate / All Star.

16. Adam Miller - Never appeared in the majors.

17. Jason Kubel - A useful bat for a couple of years.

18. Jeremy Hermida - I think he had previously been as high as #2 in all of baseball. Hung around based on his former prospect status but was only ever a quality major leaguer for one almost-full season.

19. Chad Billingsley - Mid-rotation starter for a few years before injuries ruined everything.

20. Jeff Niemann - A useful back-end starter for a couple of years.

21. Brian Dopirak - I have never heard of this guy. Never appeared in the majors.

22. Carlos Quentin - One MVP-type year, solid to good regular when healthy (which was never). 

23. Jeff Francis - 5th starter type on the whole, couple of plus years.

24. Nick Swisher - Solid regular with flashes of plus for a long time.

25. Jose Capellan - I don't know who this is. 

And those were the 25 best. BA was right, too - for the most part the Top 25 were more successful than any other collection of 25 prospects on their list.

Having thoroughly beaten this point to death - even the most highly regarded prospects just...don't work out a lot of the time. So ditching a good starting position player who would be very hard to replace because you have a pretty good prospect who is probably over his head at AA would be crazy. Do it if you get a great return and it's worth it for you, but not because you are banking on Tim Anderson being an All Star in 2016.  It's also for this reason that I'm a bit more skeptical on the Cubs' position than most - I just don't think all of their top prospects are going to be good. The odds are against it, as they are against almost any prospect.

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